Morocco is not a fully-fledged democracy, as is the case in the West, but incrementally the country, is slowly but surely, moving in that direction. As a matter of fact, the constitution of 2011 has opened the door to the devolution of power and strengthened the diverse identity of the Moroccan individual: he is Arab, Muslim, Amazigh, Jewish, African and Mediterranean. But when does this tolerance reach its limits?
Tolerance Dates Way Back
For centuries, tolerance has been a way of life in Morocco. It is a second nature of Moroccans, not to say that it is probably part of their DNA. Jews arrived in the country in the year 71 AD after the destruction of their second temple by the Romans. They were well received by the Amazigh (Berber) native people and they quickly melted into their social fabric for two reasons: firstly, because they were tribal and secondly they shared a strong matriarchal system.
Mohamed Chtatou: Dr. Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.
The Jews, though a minority, managed to convert some of the Amazigh (Berber) people from paganism to Judaism without obliterating their strong pagan beliefs such as practices linked to agricultural rites of fertility, which even Islam was not able to get rid of.
While the Amazigh (Berber) concentrated their efforts on agriculture, cattle-raising and animal husbandry, the Jews developed commerce, trade and early banking practices, a tradition that was to continue for centuries until their departure to Israel in the beginning of the 1950s, after the creation of the Jewish State in Palestine in 1948.
Judeo-Amazigh Cultural Substratum
The Judeo-Amazigh cultural substratum is undoubtedly the foundation of the Moroccan culture of tolerance and acceptance which is expressed through rituals such as:
- Extreme hospitality tradition;
- Mint-tea drinking ceremony;
- Sharing-in in religions celebrations;
- Social solidarity known as twiza; and
- Hanna ceremony
Throughout Moroccan history there were undoubtedly pogroms, where Jews were not considered full citizens in the cities and were often badly treated by Muslim religious zealots and considered as second-class citizens.
Consequently, the Sultans took upon themselves to protect their Jewish citizens and, as such, built them quarters known as mellah, adjacent to their palaces.
Moroccan tolerance reached its apogee in 1492, after the Fall of Grenada and the advent of the Reconquista. The Spanish Catholic authorities enacted a decree stripping the Sephardic Jews of their nationality, property and wealth before it expelled them. So many of them came to Morocco in full distress seeking asylum and were well-received by the Amazigh Wattassid Sultan Abu Zakariya Muhammad al-Salih al-Mahdi (1472-1505) and Moroccans.
The Sephardic Jews of Spain, given their education and expertise soon became the accredited businessmen of the Sultan. They became Tujjar Sultan (merchants of the Sultan), bankers, politicians and diplomats and until their exodus to Israel, they rendered invaluable services to the country and the Monarchy.
During the Second World War, Vichy France (July 1940–September 1944), which was the French protectorate authority in Morocco, instructed the monarchy to park all Jews in camps and make them wear the Star of David. In response, Sultan Mohammed V made the French know that Moroccan Jews were his subjects and therefore all of Morocco was Jewish and all Moroccans would stand against this anti-Semitic law, one and all, and sport the Star of David, if compelled by force.
In certain areas of the country Bouts of pan-Arabism in the 1950s triggered a wave of anti-Semitism. This movement was combined with the hyper active efforts of the Jewish Agency to encourage Jews to make the “act of going up to Jerusalem,” known as Aliyah to the “Promised land”. These factors led to a massive departure of Moroccan Jews to Israel. But in spite of this, the late King Hassan II did not recall their Moroccan citizenship nor nullify their properties — instead he called on Moroccan Jews to come back to their homeland.
Today, Many Moroccans regret the departure of their Jewish brethren and this was expressed openly in documentary films such as: Tinghir-Jerusalem by Kamal Hachkar (Icarus films) released in 2014 and Moroccan Jews: Destinies Undone by Younes Laghrari (Younslag Films.)
In the recent several decades, Hassan II and his son Mohammed VI have actively renovated all Jewish cemeteries, schools, synagogues and important Jewish sites in the country, as a sign of goodwill and tolerance.
Modern Time Aspects Of Tolerance
Moroccan tolerance is not only expressed in accepting Moroccan Jews, it is, also, shown in allowing the Islamists after 2011 to come to power and rule the country to the present date, within the limits stated by the constitution of 2011. Today, Islamists are still in power though they are enfeebled by their weak economic output and their several moral and ethical faux pas.
Probably the most important aspect of tolerance today is the official recognition of the Amazigh culture and language. This recognition was initiated in 2001 by King Mohammed VI and expressed in the 2011 constitution, which mandated that the Tamazight language is an official language beside Arabic.
Another important aspect of tolerance is the acceptance and formalization of African migration. Since 2000 many Sub-Saharan Africans have come en masse to Morocco with the hope of going to the European Eldorado. Many of them neither able to make it to Europe nor were able to go back to their respective countries for economic or political reasons.
Sympathetic to their predicament, Morocco took in thousands of African migrants giving them official papers and opening doors for them to work and educate their children equal to ordinary Moroccans. Most countries of the world praised this move. In an expression of gratitude the United Nations convened an international conference on the topic of migration in Marrakesh on 10 and 11 December 2018.
Tolerance Ends with the LGBT+
Today, there are lots of other groups living in the closet and waiting for the propitious time to come out. They are tolerated, but not officially recognized.
Throughout history, LGBTQ+ have been a part of Moroccan culture and were somewhat “tolerated”. They are thought to be affected by a malady that is incurable and are as such a “shameful problem of society”. They, nevertheless, were considered an integral part of society. In the Moroccan tradition gay people are considered to be “bottoms” as for the people who are “tops” they are viewed as “doers” and therefore “virile” individuals or rather as studs. Because of this heavy social stigmatization they have always lived in the closet and in total fear.
Lesbians (in Arabic “suhaqiyat”) are not tolerated, in the least, and are considered as “dangerous abnormal people” or even as ” individuals possessed by an evil spirit” bent on social destruction. This is why most lesbians in Morocco either migrate to Europe or stifle their sexual identity and orientation and try to pretend living a “normal” life.
However, such women and men can express their sexual identity freely in certain selective areas, mainly public baths.
Gays of Morocco came to prominence in the recent years when a Moroccan gay author called Abdellah Taïa published several books in France related to his personal experience as a gay from a Muslim country. He has, indeed, published eight novels, many of them heavily autobiographical that have been translated into different languages including Arabic. Described by Interview Magazine as a “literary transgressor and cultural paragon,” Taïa became the first openly gay Arab writer in 2006.
Sex Workers Stigmatized
Although prostitution is considered to be the oldest profession in the world, it is the most stigmatized occupation of breadwinners in Morocco. Prostitution has always been tolerated, but since independence it has become an important economic factor.
Because Morocco does not have any oil, it has made tourism one of its major economic sectors. Cities like Agadir, Marrakesh, Fes, Rabat, and Tangier have attracted thousands of visitors in the last half century, and Morocco has become ultimately an attraction for sex tourism and paedophilia, especially for people from rich Gulf States and Europe.
As such, youngsters and adults from the Gulf flock to Morocco to satisfy their sexual desires and fantasies. As a result, many young Moroccan women go in a reverse movement to the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, etc. to work in hotels, bars and nightclubs as sex workers. With the money made in these countries, lots of these women come back to Morocco and start an “acceptable” business to lead a “decent and acceptable” life. These women wear hijab, make the pilgrimage to Mecca and start a new life of religious piety to “please” society.
Other Religious Beliefs
Morocco is a Sunni country of the Malekite School of thought. Besides Judaism, no other religion is recognized in the constitution of 2011 or officially accepted. Although Christians of other nationalities are welcome to practice their religion in all freedom, they are not allowed to perform any missionary work whatsoever.
Moroccans, who convert to other religions, live abroad and rarely come back to Morocco. For example the case of the famous Moroccan Roman Catholic priest Jean Mohamed ben Abdeljalil (1904-1979) who converted to Christianity in the 1928 and lived in France where he took several teaching positions is a case in point.
However, since the advent of the third millennium and the digital revolution, many Moroccans converted to Christianity or migrated from Sunnism to Shi’ism, out of financial need or for pure belief and philosophical reasons. The Shi’ites are located mostly in the north, with a large concentration in Tangier.
Hopes for a Plural Country
Since the adoption of the constitution 2011, Morocco has officially triggered an incremental democracy movement and this movement that is in the long run beneficial for the welfare of the nation and its development can be successful in its action if personal liberties are accepted and calibrated by law.
The Moroccan LGBT+ Moroccan community is yet to be accepted and tolerated. The law of the land has to help them and protect them from stigmatization and stereotyping. They are people who love their country and want to lead a normal life in normal circumstances.
Morocco is a plural country with multiple cultural, ethnic and religious identities. If, Jews are accepted alongside Muslims for more than two millennia, why not accept Shiites and Christians? Being Moroccan is about Tamaghribit (love of the country) and not religion, culture or identity. A Moroccan is Moroccan because he holds his country in his heart and not because of his religion, ethnicity or identity.
This is an editted version.